I don’t care if the Celtics are oh-for the season, whenever the Lakers beat them it always feels good. That’s especially the case when a back and forth contest where the Lakers have to make plays down the stretch – and do – to win it.
And that was the case today. After getting up big in the 1st quarter, the Celtics found their stride in the 2nd frame, chipped away at the Lakers’ lead, and then battled the home team all the way until the final buzzer. In fact, in the 3rd period, the Celtics actually looked to be in control of the game until
MWP Ron hit some timely jumpers and then got into a short altercation with Paul Pierce and Kevin Garnett. That brief shoving match got the crowd back into the game and gave the Lakers the energy they’d need to keep the game close and set up fantastic closing stretch that would ultimately lead to the win.
The big plays will be all over the highlight reels tonight but it was the final three possessions that were all the plays of the game. First was a Kobe jumper to put the team up by a single point with under a minute to go.
During the timeout leading into the possession where Kobe hit the shot, the coaches were drawing up a play on the grease board and right before the huddle broke Kobe and Pau were making hand motions, obviously discussing how they’d set up the shot. Kobe was making a circling motion and Pau, repeating the motion to Kobe, seemed to completely understand what Kobe wanted and how he’d play into the action. What transpired looked to be exactly what Kobe and Pau had in mind. After Kobe got set up at the left elbow and received the pass, Pau came from the right side of the floor, circled around Kobe’s man to set a screen so Kobe could go left, with Kobe then using the pick and getting up a jumper right over the hand of Pau’s man that was late to contest. Just a beautiful play that showed the chemistry between Pau and Kobe and their ability to be on the same page on a crucial possession:
After getting a stop on the Celtics next possession, the Lakers would need another basket to push their lead to three and ensure that they couldn’t lose in overtime should the Celtics score on what would be their last possession. After Mike Brown called a timeout to set up a the possession, the Lakers would trigger to Kobe who would then look to Bynum to get a basket against KG (who had struggled with him all night in the post). After the game, Kobe described the set up of the possession this way:
Andrew has improved so much. I felt like it’s important to trust him in that situation and throw the ball to him. They’ve had a hard time dealing with him all night long. Decided to give it to him and he went to work. I told him, ‘We’re going to come to you. We’re not going to do this play right here, we’re going come to you, post you. Be strong. If they come and double, make the easy play. If they don’t, do what you do.
And, Bynum did know exactly what to do. After receiving the entry pass, Bynum calmly backed KG down, spun over his left shoulder and shot his jump hook. The result was the made basket the Lakers would need to push their lead to 3:
The last possession of the game may have been my favorite, though. Needing one stop to secure the win, the Lakers played nearly flawless defense, switching every screen, and had multiple players step out to contest shots that would have tied the game. They did give up a fairly open look to Rondo after a heady KG tipped out an offensive rebound, but that shot fell harmlessly short:
This wasn’t the best played game. The Lakers lost their energy and focus after building that early 15 point lead, committing too many turnovers and not sticking with the inside game that got them their lead. Give the Celtics credit too as they took advantage of the Lakers’ mistakes, clawed their way back into the game, and had individuals play very well to boost their team effort. Rondo was huge in making a bunch of mid-range jumpers that blew up the Lakers’ strategy of laying off him and Brandon Bass was money with his elbow jumper (save for his last one with the Lakers up by one) and on the glass.
But the Lakers were able to pull out the game anyway. They rattled off an 8-0 run, played nearly perfect ball in crunch time and got a win against a rival (which never gets old). There’s still a lot of work to be done but for one day, they can celebrate a solid win.